EAST ELMHURST, NY – The struggle for justice and equitable treatment of LGBTQIA+ individuals often finds its way into the courts, shedding light on the ongoing fight for transgender rights in public spaces. Ali Miles, who was born biologically male but identifies as a female and is transitioning into a woman, stands as a recent example. Miles, a self-identified transgender Muslim woman, fights for her rights after facing alleged discrimination and physical inappropriate treatment in a correctional facility.
Miles has filed a lawsuit against the New York City government, seeking over $22,000,000 in compensation for having allegedly been discriminated against due to her gender identity. She was held in the George R. Vierno Center in Rikers Island from June to July 2022, before being transferred to Yavapai County Jail in Arizona after a conviction on aggravated harassment, disorderly conduct, harassment, threatening or intimidating, and false reporting to a law enforcement agency.
According to the lawsuit filed in August 2023, Miles has stated that she was wrongfully placed in a male detention center, notwithstanding a court order and her plea for placement in a facility according to her identified gender. Her attorney claims this inherently violates her rights as a transgender woman under the protection of non-discrimination laws.
Despite wearing women’s clothing consistently and clearly communicating her female gender identity, she alleges she confronted immense discrimination, physical assault, and gross human rights violations within the facility. Such alleged abuses underscore the ongoing misinterpretation and diminution of transgender rights across various societal institutions, including the correctional system.
Miles’s lawsuit further asserts that the alleged mistreatment she faced, from both personnel and other inmates, inflicted considerable distress and trauma upon her. These conditions highlight alleged gross negligence and a lack of appropriate accommodation for transgender individuals within the prison system.
The allegations note inappropriate and degrading comments by a male guard during a strip search and routine sexual victimization due to the misplacement in a male facility. Underpinning these allegations is an apparent systematic disregard for Miles’s lived gender identity and her safety.
The defendants of Miles’s lawsuit include the City of New York, the Department of Corrections Rikers Island, and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. The case, much like earlier ones filed, seeks to challenge presumed discriminatory practices based on gender identity. The City of New York must now respond to the allegations and determine the course of action in response, under due process.
This lawsuit marks not Miles’s first engagement with the legal system to assert her rights against alleged gender-discrimination. In the past, entities including a yoga studio, a tourism company, Planet Fitness, Bagel Point, and New York Presbyterian Hospital, faced legal action from Miles on comparable grounds. While earlier cases were dismissed, the ongoing lawsuit against the City of New York continues to unfold.
At the heart of this controversy lies the question of how societal and institutional structures, from a local yoga studio to the naturalized practices within a detention center, are fully acknowledging and accommodating transgender identities. Moreover, the case presents a snapshot of the larger struggle against systemic discrimination and inequality faced by many transgender individuals.
In the greater societal perspective, New York, like many cities globally, grapples with providing equal and fair access to public accommodations, given an ever-evolving understanding of gender identity. Since 2016, a law has mandated businesses to allow visitors bathroom options aligned with their gender identity or provide neutral bathrooms for all genders. Efforts to accommodate this have seen instances of friction and potential litigation, much like the current case involving Miles.